Friday, 22 June 2007

Life, fate and STA!

I've become accustomed to how unpredictable life can be. Perhaps its in my stars but my life seems to have more unexpected diversions than most. One week I can be content in Australia the next backpacking around India. I embrace change and surprise in my life whilst friends question how I cope with the uncertainty. I've never understood the need for corporations to pour money into change management.

Thats launches me into my current situation..... I'm back in Australia! Enrique and I arrived back to the UK from the Czech Republic the evening before we exchanged vows, my sister arrived from Australia that evening too. The morning of our civil ceremony I was busy organising my suit, finalising the catering and drinking champagne (calm the nerves)! Anyway, get ready for this, in all the excitement I forgot to change the dates for my flight back to Australia! Damn! Basically my flight was scheduled to leave for Australia in two days time..... no problemo I hear you say! Well it shouldn't have been a problem except STA travel were apart of the equation.

Never, never, NEVER book a flight through STA travel! Yes, it was my fault that I forgot to change the dates on my ticket and I accept responsibility but in this modern world we live in, shit happens and business needs to adjust accordingly.

Firstly, STA advised me that I needed to contact British Airways UK to change my ticket. WRONG! British Airways didn't have access to my particular fare rules and regulations issued by STA.

I called STA again, this time I was told to contact British Airways in Australia! WRONG AGAIN! British Airways in Australia advised me that my ticket was a Qantas issued ticket but regardless all changes had to be made via STA.

I decided to go straight to my nearest STA office to sort the mess out pronto! BIG MISTAKE! I was informed by the 'friendly' STA staff that I would need to make changes to my ticket via their 'new customer service email service'! Shouldn't that be an oxymoron? Customer Service email service?! My flight was due to leave in approximately 24 hours, STA's estimated response time using the 'customer service email'.... about 24 hours! I sent the email requesting a change in my ticket but after 10 valuable hours and no response I had lost faith in STA.

I then called STA Australia (British Telecoms share price spiked thanks to my consumption). I 'luckily' spoke to the woman who I booked my ticket through. She suggested that I now call Qantas Australia to change my ticket! UNBELIEVABLE!

I eventually changed my ticket...... I phoned an independent travel agent on the sunshine coast, who managed to change my ticket! Unfortunately it was only by one day but it gave Enrique and I more time together.

Can you believe the shit customer service STA provide?! Can you believe, a small independent travel agent that a friend recommended managed to change my ticket in less than 1 hour!

STA can waste their squillions on marketing but consumers don't trust or believe their spin..... nor should they. What consumers do trust is the experience of other consumers, STA can't buy that. My blog has had about 76,000 hits and counting, I'm a university student who operates within STA's target market. Word of mouth is the most powerful weapon in the marketing stratagem.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Ahoj Slovakia!

It's our final day in Slovakia and I feel kinda sad. It's positively true that people make a place. Yesterday we had a farewell dinner with all the neighbours who I've grown to love. Alena, the matriarch of her apartment. Rotund with pendulous tits and a foul-mouth, she had us in stitches with her drunken anecdotes and cutting remarks about the whores of the habitation (her daughter included). Her ability to shift from tears of self pity to a hilarious yarn about the antics on the habitation is astounding. She is solely responsible for teaching me the more colurful and crude Slovak expressions.

Her Grandson Robert, a promising and sweet 18 year old who seems lost at the moment. Given his grandmother, Alena, refers to him as a peabrain, good for nothing useless waste of space its fair to postulate that he needs to spread his wings in order to grow, I sincerely hope he grows to be something great and stop operating withing the boundaries his family have put up for him.

Alena Jnr, she is the sweetest girl. Always appears overly-happy to see you and launches into a full Slovak converastion at 100mph regardless of whether I understand or not. But the huge smile on her face indicates that she is trying to communicate with warmth. Alena and Lubos are the original kids on the Habitation so they are the quasi-veterans or top dogs!

Mary, a married administrator with an appreciation of red wine (she likes to get hammered on it). She is fancy-free, having an affair on her husband... much to the disgust of Alena snr. She is also the glamourous member of the social set. Complete with manicured nails, hair and make-up who indulges in an annual holiday to Bulgaria (via a 24 hour coach trip mind you).

Luba, Lubos' sister. She is a loud-mouthed, no bullshit kinda girl. Underneath the bravado is a little girl wanting acceptance and love. She has a great sense of humour and would often lower her voice to a monotone whisper to gossip about the latest goings-on in Teplicka (her local village).

Luba, Lubos's mum we have decided is a latent dyke. She is very fond of Mary becoming all giggly in her presence. Underneath the shyness is a pressure cooker of anger ready to explode... which it did on one occasion. Thankfully it wasn't directed at me.

Anyway, I will continue this entry when we get back to the UK, we need to leave for the 5 hour train ride to Prague and then the 2 hour flight to the Uk.

Tomorrow is the big day, I'm kinda nervous and excited. I cant wait!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007


After being told that Čičmany was a 50 minute bike ride away, Lubos and I set out on what ended up being a 80 kilometre round trip! My arse is still killing me.

Tucked neatly into the forested hills of Zilina is Cicmany, the first town in the world to be declared a Reserve of Folk Architecture. The alpine town is renown for its wooden houses adorned with unique hand-painted designs.

Ironically, the history of Čičmany is rooted in a need to be hidden. In the late 13th century, the Tartars were destroying and pillaging Slovakia, forcing local villagers - including the Cic family, hence the town's name - to seek sanctuary. They found refuge in this remote mountain valley and settled into a traditional Slovak lifestyle.

The fact that the village still stands today is a miracle. In 1921, fire completely destroyed the town and the villagers rebuilt - only to have occupying Nazi soldiers set the village ablaze again during World War II.

In Slovakia if a woman (or man) is wearing excessive make-up, the local saying is, 'She is done up like a Čičmany house"! I actually thought it meant your looks were smouldering, like a Čičmany house after the Nazi's have torched it - LOL!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Ahhhh Vienna....

Don't get me wrong, I'm loving Slovakia but god was it good to arrive in a city that has modern dentistry, deodorant and Helmut Lang.... ahh Vienna.

I knew from the start that I wanted to wade through the Freud Museum. Let me just clarify, you dont wade through anything. Apart from the waiting room which has been reconstructed using photographs, the place is a shell. It took years of acquiring Freuds original apartment back from private renters, ample amounts of cash and the collaboration of architects and artists to create a dull space that resembles nothing of Freuds apartment or office. In a cruel gesture to the museums visitors, photographs of the original space are displayed in corresponding rooms so you can observe the disparity. The patrons, however seemed more interested buying Freud tea-towels, fridge magnets and t-shirts in the gift shop. The designers at least understood the psychology of shopping, a ikea-esque space that you have to wander through in order to get out it also happens to be the only airconditioned space in the whole museum - ching ching!

Take my advice, buy a book on Freud and/or visit the Freud Museum in London. Freuds London home is overflowing with information and artifacts. It has also been kept identical to when Freud was administered that lethal dose of morphine... minus the vomit in the carpet.

After the Freud Museum, Lubos and I then went to the Palmenhause Restaurant in the Wiener Burggarten for a bite. It was such a beautiful day, perfect for people watching so we sat outside. The Viennese are so glamorous and well mannered. In comparison, the Bratislavians look like filthy gypsies. Its easy to see how Vienna ranks third in the world in terms of quality of life as opposed to third world.

When comparing Austria to Slovakia its plain to see Austria is far more prosperous. Both countries were pillaged by the Third Reich, both countries were ravaged by war but fortunately for Austria, the country was spared from Communism.

After a long and full day we returned to Slovakia via Bratislava. With the risk of sounding bourgeois, never, I will repeat NEVER, travel second class on Slovak Rail. It was 30 degrees, there was no airconditioning, all the windows were closed and the stench from the toilet permeated the whole carriage! There were so many passengers, condensation was dripping from the ceiling and the occasional gypsy/beggar/drunk would accost you for money.

God I just read what I wrote. Apart from moving between tenses, I sound like I had the worst time which I absolutley didnt.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Yelle - je veux te voi

Check out the video of the month. It's an electro-pop song 'Je veux te voi'..... fuck knows what its about. If you can translate it for me I would be most appreciative. I know that pornography, t-shirts and hummers are mentioned. The artist is Yelle and she rocks. I hope you enjoy.

PS: Despite looking like she has a penis in her tights, I can confirm she is all woman.

Překrásný Praha

Lubos and I caught the overnight train from Zilina to Prague the other day. We had our own first class cabin with oversized seats that reclined into beds and a massive window to appreciate the passing scenery. My only gripe was with the dumb-fuck Conductor. After every scheduled stop (approximately 15) she would appear at our cabin (Ahoj!) to wake us and inspect and re-inspect our tickets!

Anyway, there is something amazing about rail travel. We hung out the window with the wind blowing in our faces. The train curved around mountains, through villages, over bridges, along lakes and across fields. At day break the train passed the outer villages of Prague and we watched the villagers prepare for the day ahead.

We arrived in Prague at 6:30am. Hlavní Nádraž, the oldest and busiest rail staion was already bustling. It never ceases to astound me how one of the main arrival points into Prague is full of drug dealers, the homeless, drunkards and drug addicts. I'm not sure if hookers sell their wares at Hlavní Nádraž because most Czech girls look like cheap whores so its hard to differentiate. However, in plain view of the public and the POLICE, deals are brokered on the main concourse and then buyers go down to the lockers to smoke or inject their goodies. On a previous trip to Prague, I sat at a cafe to wait for a train. The couple at the table next to me free-based their crystal meth without any inhibitions. I felt like I was sitting within the pages of 'Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zu', the book which later became the film Christiana F.

Once outside the station we made our way through the drunks and homeless and then into the streets of Prague... God I love this city! We had breakfast at Joseva, the Jewish quarter of Prague. It was in Joseva that I discovered the writings of Franz Kafka. There is a cafe where Kafka himself would sit and write, the cafe has been preserved to its originality and is worth a visit.

After plenty of karva, we then went and sat on a park bench that overlooked the River Vltava, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. The tyrant George Bush was arriving in Prague later that day so we watched as Greenpeace assembled their boat with anti-war placards.

We then soaked up the atmosphere at Wenceslas Square over a sausage and mustard lunch at one of the pavement carts, not disimilar to Harry's Cafe de Wheels.

We wandered the streets of the old town, Stare Mesto and in particular, the Staromestske Namesti (old town square). With it's collection of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic style buildings, the Astronomical Clock and the stunning St. Nicholas Church, Staromestske Namesti is easily the most resplendent square in Europe.

After more karva, I then accompanied Lubos to the airport (and saw the United States of America Air Force One arrive). He boarded his flight to England and I went to Sarka Park for an hour ot two and then made my way back to Zilina by train.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Red Army Cemetery Zilina.

As a child Lubos' whole school would traipse up a mountain to pay homage to the Red Army soldiers. In true Bolshevist style, the school would be led into song praising the Communist liberators and Communism. The only problem, apart from not giving a toss about Communism, he couldn't remember exactly where the cemetery was....... until we stumbled accross it this afternoon.

It's situated on top of a hill that looks over the Habitations. I love Socialist architecture, the dramatic parade monumentalism, uniformity, balance, patriotic art decoration and traditional sickle and hammer motifs. Dare I say it, I even adore Nazi architecture.

We are off to the Czech Republic on an overnight train and arrive in Prague tomorrow morning.... the same day as George Bush Jnr - aaaarrrggghhh!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Aunt Bozena of Budatin.

The freakiest thing happened today. Lubos and I went for a bike ride to Budatin village in Zilina. It's the village where his paternal side of the family live. Lubos has never really talked about this side of his family except that his Dad walked out on the family after pumping a slut full of DNA and getting her pregnant.

We shinnied up the mountain past the little alpine style houses stopping at the house where his grandparents lived. By Slovakian standards, it is quite nice. Perched precariously on a mountainside it looks across a valley, motorway and rail track towards Budatin Castle. Across the road is Budatin Cemetery where Lubos' grandparents are buried.

Being a Saturday, the cemetery was packed with widows, sweeping, pruning, polishing and preening loved one's graves. After locating a cemetery attendant (this place was busier than a High Street) she directed us to where his grandparents are buried. It was at their grave that Lubos told me the story of Aunt Bozena.....

Bozena lived in the roof of the grandparents house. She received severe and regular beatings for being too 'slow'. Everyone described her as being a sandwich short of a picnic. Anyway, the tragic story gets even more odious. About 12 years ago she was gang-raped by gypsies and consequently fell pregnant. By the time the family realised she was pregnant (Bozena was too docile to notice), I'm assuming it was too late to abort... or being the 'virtuous' Catholics they were, perhaps an abortion was out of the question?! Bozena gave birth to a boy. Being a dark-skinned gypo and born out of wedlock the child brought intense shame to the family and was palmed off to God knows where. Aunt Bozena's mental health worsened, perhaps it was post-natal depression or the trauma of being raped and then giving birth to the resulting child... who knows. The lady at the local cukraren (patisserie) explained that Bozena's breast milk went bad and travelled to her head, whatever the reason, Bozena never recovered.

Still reeling from Bozena's story we decided to ride further up the mountain. It began to rain and cloud started to cloak the mountain so we turned for home. As we rounded the corner I saw a woman approaching in a tightly fastened blue trench coat, wellington boots carrying a sickle and bucket. As we rode closer Lubos looked at me in shock - it was Aunt Bozena! I urged him to go back and say 'Hi'. After hearing her story, I felt for her and thought she would be happy to see her long lost nephew - WRONG!

As he said 'Hi' and introduced himself Bozena became distressed and dodged Lubos like a petrified feral animal. She scampered into the forest from where she came. She didn't utter a word, the terror in her eyes, however spoke volumes.

In disbelief we rode to the local cukraren for a drink and to make further enquiries about Aunt Bozena. The lady explained that because she gave birth to a gypsy child, Bozena's breast milk was tainted and sent her crazy (Slovaks love their fishwives tales). She explained that Bozena lives alone in the house she was raised in and is only visited occasionaly by her sisters. She lives like an animal and doesn't communicate with anyone!

There's Hope for America Yet!

Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, just released the the following statement on his official website:

"Pride Month is a reminder that while we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do."

"Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."

"It's time to turn the page on the bitterness and bigotry that fill so much of today's LGBT rights debate. The rights of all Americans should be protected -- whether it's at work or anyplace else. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" needs to be repealed because patriotism and a sense of duty should be the key tests for military service, not sexual orientation. Civil unions should give gay couples full rights. And those who commit hate crimes should be punished no matter whether those crimes are committed on account of race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation."

"This Pride Month, let's make our founding promise of equality a reality for every American."

I really hope Obama is the first of a new generation in world leaders. Take note Howard, Bush and Blair/Brown, your times up.... hopefully!

Friday, 1 June 2007

A Pinch and a Punch for the First Day of the Month!

Today we had a party for Enrique's niece, Lucka. It was interesting to see the difference between my nieces' parties and Enriques niece.

The last party my niece had was a weekend affair on a private island off the coast of Jakarta. It was complete with staff and a chartered yacht for her and all her friends.... she is nine! She received copius amounts of gifts, most of which were discarded (not worthy enough) after 5 minutes. One friend actually gave her a top-end mobile worth more than I can afford, my niece lost the phone after a couple of weeks.

For Enrique's niece we all crammed into his Mother's apartment. She received one gift from everyone, a Barbie scooter, and she loved it! The children then went outside and played on the scooter and on the swing set. We then had lunch and cake, followed by the anecdotes of a drunk neighbour.

Today highlighted how fruitless the pursuit is for material possessions...... who am I kidding, I stiil want that dries van noten suit ; )

Invites to our Civil Partnership!

We finally picked up the invites for our civil partnership ceremony! We decided to get the invites done in Slovakia to save a bit of dough. What a palaver! After scouring the streets of Zilina we found a printing company that did wedding invites. We then had the awkward situation of explaining to the provincial staff that it was two men getting married! Thank Buddha for Enrique's friend Alena who had the chutzpah to tell the staff 'to just get on with it!'.

Anyway, we selected an invite from a bunch of kitsch designs on offer. After three days of corrections (typos) we finally have our invites. And in true Stephen and Lubos style, they are being sent out two weeks before the actual date. If the Slovak Post operates anything like the printing company, the invites might arrive to their intended addressees before the end of the year.... thats if they arrive at all!

Sorry about the poor quality picture, I still think the invites are cute though!